2nd March 2001 at 00:00
In 1793, the Spanish court painter Francisco Goya (1746-1828) suffered a devastating illness that would leave him profoundly deaf for the rest of his life. During his convalescence, immersed in a new world of buzzing silence, Goya began to keep a private journal of drawings, in which he found a new way of recording his memories, observations and imaginings. The journal, which took up eight large albums, was probably only ever seen by his closest circle of friends and family. After his death, the pages were split up.

A new exhibition at London's Hayward Gallery brings the pages back together for the first time, and it's an extraordinary, surprising, and satisfying sight.

A lithe young woman bends to adjust her stocking. Another drowsily loosens her hair. While one girl snoozes out her siesta time, her barefoot maid reaches under the bed to remove her mistress's chamber pot. Each drawing focuses on a solo figure, or small knot of characters, loosely and fluidly drawn in ink. The drawings are careful and complete, never sketches or studies for other works; sometimes smokey-black, sometimes faded to deep sepia, but always fresh and luminescent.

Elsewhere we see the Hogarthian side of Goya the satirist. A monk riding his donkey receives the unwelcome attentions of a horny stallion. A family is wracked by histrionic calamity - rosaries are clutched, breasts are beaten amid torrents of sobbing. "What a disaster!" the artist's caption reads. "The house is in uproar because the poor dog hasn't done her duty all day."

Goya's captions add to the ambiguity of his drawings. A smiling fellow chats harmlessly enough to a younger woman, but "Be wary of the advice", Goya comments perplexingly. "Showing off? Remember your age," he writes, as an old woman tumbles head over heels down the stairs.

With few of his paintings or drawings in British collections, Goya has become most identified with his print, "The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters". The odd cloud of snarling butterfly-winged beasties erupts here, with one old hag lugging bags of babies on her shoulders, and another riding howling through the night on the back o a nightmare bull; but Goya's drawings reveal a man of frolicsome good humour and deeply felt compassion for the breadth of humanity.

From now on I'll always associate him with his gloriously celebratory drawing of a gummy old crone, kicking up her heels in an exultant jig. This title is unambiguous: "Content with her lot".

An excellent education pack accompanies the exhibition. There is a study and drawing room, a great series of talks, and a one-off reading by John Berger of his play, Goya's Last Portrait, with co-author Nella Bielski and Theatre de Complicite actress Lilo Baur (April 25, 7.30pm).

The Hayward's downstairs gallery, meanwhile, is showing the work of the Hungarian-born Parisian, Brassai (1899-1984). Atmospheric photographs from the 1930s glimpse furtive lovers and raddled streetwalkers, bleary-eyed in seamy cafes, or tramping the misty banks of the Seine. There are fascinating photos of Picasso and his studio; plus a bizarre series recording the graffiti which Brassai found gouged into walls of the city. His elongated drawings of haunchy women and palm-sized stone carvings of Cycladic torsos are a particular delight. Hayward Gallery: 020 7960 4242. Goya and Brassai until May 13.

At the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds, poet Simon Armitage is premi ring his first stage play, Mister Heracles, a reworking of Euripides's tragedy.

Euripides sees the returning Greek hero kill his wife and family in a moment of temporary madness caused by the gods, but that excuse doesn't wash with Armitage. "In my version, the emphasis has changed to guilt and demonstrating the culpability of everyone around him who made him into an icon," he says. "I want to show the responsibility across society."

Taking the opposite approach from Fiona Shaw's recent Medea, Armitage decided to keep all the gore off-stage. "I really wanted to find a way to describe terrible, bloodthirsty violence in a way that isn't gratuitous," he says. "That's far more interesting than what we get on film. You have to use your imagination, and that's the scary bit." Until March 17. Tickets: 0113 213 7700.

Judith Palmer

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